Morning Lament

New Zealand Beach in April

I often wake up to my oldest daughter singing. She sings her way through every day, making up words and tunes to accompany her games, her reading, her everyday routine. She loves word games; I hear her working out rhymes as she goes, trying out one word, discarding it for another, playing with pronunciations and syllables, foreign words, puns, made-up words. She lives a colorful existence inside the space of her eight-year-old head, and I’m always surprised by the range of emotional experiences that she entertains in her play.

One day, I awoke to a haunting tune, sung in a child’s typically lilting, soprano voice. I lay in bed as I listened to her morning lament:

I’ve given all that’s left of me
And now I’m afraid we are history
Well I see a light return to others
And yet we are bent in sorrow.
Waiting for night to turn to ’morrow
Our heads bent down…

When will we rest, stop wondering
when it’s gonna come
We wish for daylight to appear
But yet it won’t, that’s our greatest fear.

It’s only the five of us
What ever happened to the light we shared?
What ever happened to the love we beared?
We wait here for so long, waiting for tomorrow

I’ve given you all that’s left of me
And now I’m afraid we’re history
Waiting for daylight to return
Waiting for us to all but learn

Maybe if I saw a way out of this darkness,
Maybe I’d see a way to survive
I’ve given you all that’s left of me
The light I had, it’s history

Waiting, waiting, waiting til tomorrow
If we could see our way through this dark black hole
We’d be able to find new air

I’ve given you all that’s left of me,
Now I’m afraid I’m history
Waiting, waiting, waiting, waiting
Now it’s just the five of us

For the five of us, will the light ever appear?
Maybe not, that’s our greatest fear…

Like all parents, I appreciate my kids’ imaginations and I encourage them to push the boundaries. But also like all parents, sometimes I worry. I got out of bed, made a coffee, and mulled over how to ask my daughter about her sad song. I briefly wondered about the source of this emptiness, her fears of abandonment, the anxiety that a seemingly happy-go-lucky child can harbor. She lives a pretty secure life.  But she’s aware of life’s darker sides, too. We don’t believe in sugar-coating when it comes to dealing with the realities that make up our world: the fish we haul from the sea for our dinner; the random carcass of a whale or sealion whose end has come too soon; the loss of a friend who has moved away; the recent passing of a grandparent; even the persistent existence of two dead uncles our children never knew. We enjoy frank conversations with our kids, and they seem fairly grounded, psychologically and emotionally. But still… sometimes I wonder about the inner workings of a kid’s heart.

And so I asked,

“Why are you singing such a woeful tale this morning?”

To which she replied,

“Oh, it’s the song my penguins are singing. The father has gone off fishing, see, but he’s not coming back…”

And sure enough, there on the couch were five stuffed penguins of varying sizes, huddled together, stoically facing their sorrow about the father who would not return. I opened my mouth to say something else, fumbled for a parental statement of comfort, but instead I was reminded of the emotional agility of children, as my daughter swept the penguins aside, turned to me and said,

“I’m hungry. Can we have cereal now?”

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